Self Limiting Beliefs

Self limiting beliefs are a prisonWe stay where it's safe for fear of failing and feeling humiliated. Self-limiting beliefs amount to a self-imposed prison, a set of walls we build and maintain to defend and protect ourselves. How can we break out?

A self-limiting belief is a label we apply to ourselves like "I'm not educated enough." It's always an excessively broad generalization because as soon as you ask yourself: "For what?" you have to admit that the answer is: "For certain things." Our self-limiting belief statement suggests that we aren't educated enough for anything, but the truth is that it really only applies to certain things. In that sense everyone is not educated enough for some things. You might have a Ph.D. in mathematics but not be educated enough to get a job in engineering.

Self-limiting beliefs hold us back, keep  us locked inside a narrow comfort zone. We might take a few tentative steps outside our comfort zone, but we quickly pop back in at the first misstep. We may know perfectly well that it can take a long time to learn a new skill but, because we are so afraid of failing and looking bad, we fail to give ourselves enough time to succeed. We don't make the effort to practice a new skill or take risks because it is too scary outside our comfort zone.

What are Your Self-Limiting Beliefs?

Here's a list of typical self-limiting beliefs. Are yours on this list or do you have some different ones?

  • I'm not smart enough.
  • I'm too old, too young, too fat, too out of shape, etc.
  • I'm not outgoing enough.
  • I lack relevant experience.
  • I could never do that.
  • I lack sufficient formal education.
  • I have too many weaknesses.
  • I don't have the confidence to do that.
  • I don't have enough skills or talent.
  • I don't have what it takes to succeed.
  • I'm terrible at managing my time, money, etc.
  • I don't know what I want to do with the rest of my life.
  • I would fail for sure if I tried that.
  • I'm really stupid when it comes to X.
  • I make too many mistakes when I try something new.
  • Taking risks always turns out bad for me.
  • The way I have operated in the past works well enough.
  • I'm comfortable doing what I'm doing now.
  • Successful people are just lucky.
  • I deserve better.
  • I work very hard, isn't that enough?
  • I'm a failure.
  • I'm a slow learner.
  • Too many people are smarter than me.
  • My parents didn't do enough for me.
  • My partner isn't supportive enough.
  • Other?

Practical Steps

The first step is to identify your self-limiting beliefs. This may not be easy because they are so much a part of you and because it feels risky to question any characteristic that helps you feel safe. Try asking yourself this question: "If I could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing I would change about myself?" Then examine this characteristic critically. Is it really true of you or just something you have always believed. What steps can you take to disprove or change this characteristic? Convince yourself that your self-respect will get a greater boost by trying and failing than if you fail to try.

Make a list of all your self-limiting beliefs and challenge each one. Change your self-limiting belief statements into ones that are not so GLOBAL, that don't apply to everything. For example, we should make the statement: "Life is horrible" less global by saying that actually only x, y and z are horrible, other things are OK. 

Then ask yourself how each statement is limiting you and why you believe it, what evidence there is and, most importantly, why you feel you NEED to believe the statement. After all, regardless of how you acquired any particular belief, it is YOU who are maintaining it.

Then make a plan to step outside your comfort zone, recognizing that it may take loads of practice over an extended period of time to become passably competent at your new skill. Work with a buddy who also wants to change a self-limiting belief. Support each other with regular updates and celebrations of success, even small progress steps.

See also: Confidence at Work and Coping with Pressure.

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